A mixed reception for high speed rail link

The construction of a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham is the biggest infrastructure undertaking by a British government in decades, so it is hardly surprising that many people have strong views on the project.

The ideals behind a high speed rail link between the biggest cities in the UK are increased labour mobility and a distribution of development. With an estimated completion date in 2026, the connection is expected to dramatically cut down journey times and increase passenger capacity. According to government figures, HS2 will generate a £10bn profit over the next six decades.

It sounds brilliant for small business owners who may be looking for resurgence in the money available to people in their local areas, a wider pool of people to employ from and reduced times between meetings. However, those involved in companies in Birmingham are starting to question how much it will benefit them.

Chris Meredith, head of UK sales with Officebroker.com, a location finder for thousands of small businesses, has said the money invested in the project could be better spent on improving existing networks or supporting other areas of the economy such as new start-ups.

He also believes few people in small businesses would be in a position to pay for the higher fare rates to benefit from the new link: "Journey time reduction is always a bonus, but will saving 25 minutes really make that much of a difference to passengers," he asks.

His voice is not alone. Last year survey of business leaders, carried out by the Institute of Directors, found that improving motorways and existing rail services were both preferred to the idea of creating a new and quicker, but more expensive, line.

On top of this, think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs have challenged the government's cost and benefit predictions, stating hidden and operating costs will make the system a drain on the UK economy.

The government and project developers have countered these claims, arguing that new infrastructure development is the only way to avoid overcrowding, fare rises and severe delays. They believe that improving existing services isn't cost effective due to the disruption it would cause over the next decade.

All the major political parties in the UK believe businesses will benefit from an increased pool of labour, the transfer of knowledge and the redistribution of wealth. There will also be a lasting effect of job creation, with 10,000 new jobs predicted in Birmingham alone.

If fares on current rail services continue to rise, more people in small businesses may make the change to the high speed rail for a more cost effective journey, benefiting from a more reliable service and faster journey times.

However, the real value of the project lies in the long-term plan. While a single high speed rail link from London to Birmingham will have benefits for business and the economy, a far more exciting prospect is the countrywide Y network, which is expected to be constructed in 2033.

Once completed, the Y network will provide a high speed rail service connecting London and Birmingham to Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. The extended network will build on the benefits of HS2 and will allow for quicker travel across the country.

The government believes HS2 will boost social mobility and benefit businesses, but it will be a long time before we see how small businesses are affected by HS2 and even longer until they can reap the benefits of the Y network, which should give the UK the mobility it needs to capitalise on its diverse labour supply.

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